“It was in that room there that I signed the Official Secrets Act.” Betty Webb, 97, points with her walking stick to a ground floor room in the baronial mansion at Bletchley Park, Britain’s legendary top secret code-breaking facility during World War II. Through the bay window, a massive desk is visible. “There was a senior intelligence officer seated behind that desk,” she says, “and I remember he had a handgun lying casually beside him, right where that coffee cup is now. I was told to sign and made to understand in no uncertain terms that I could never discuss anything about my work here with anyone. I signed. It was a sobering moment. I was 18 years old at the time.”
That was in 1941. Britain was at war. German troops had already overrun much of Europe.
Webb had been taking a home economics course but joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service—the women’s army—because, as she put it, “I wanted to do something more for the war effort than bake sausage rolls.” Webb was bilingual—she’d grown up with a German au pair and had been an exchange student in Germany—so she was ordered to report to Bletchley, an hour or so north of London. “It was so secret I had no idea what it was—nobody did!—let alone what I was getting into.”